Were you ever in a position to teach someone who seemed very smart?

How did you teach them?

Have you ever taught someone who seemed very stupid?

What did you change in your approach to help them learn?

The book, Mindset by Carol Dweck, talks about two kinds of people in the world. One set who believe that talent and intelligence are fixed at birth, or at some point during childhood, and cannot be changed. They usually have compliments like “You learned that so quickly! You’re so smart!” Or “You’re a genius.”

The trouble with compliments like that is that once people get used to hearing these comments enough, they become afraid to fall, to fail, to look stupid in front of others. So they take fewer risks, and become less and less creative and produce less and less.

This is why child prodigies are actually lucky if they stay productive in adulthood. You start to be afraid of how people’s view of you will change if you make mistakes.

The other kind of mindset, according to Dweck, is the Growth mindset. If you’re teaching someone and they consistently get over 100% on every test, then you should apologize to them and say, “I’m sorry this isn’t challenging enough for you. Let me give you some more challenging material, so you will really stretch yourself more.”

The growth mindset values effort, not failure or success. It says, “I like a challenge!” So if you want to compliment someone with the growth mindset, you might say, “That looks like it took a lot of work!” or “I love how you got the team together to work on this.”

How do you apply this to your nonprofit?

According to Dweck, the growth mindset values teamwork over individual superstars.

She talks about Jack Welch, who found that people from MIT, Princeton and Caltech were not necessarily filled with a passion and hunger to get things done. And that was who he found were the best workers.

But that didn’t mean he tolerated brutal bosses. He got rid of them for not fitting the values that he set up- He said, “This company is about growth, not about self-importance or elitism.”

When he came in, he opened channels of communication and dialogue, asking executives what they liked and disliked about the company and what they thought needed changing.


Dweck also talks about Lou Gerstner, who turned around IBM in the 80s.

He disbanded the management committee, and said, “Hierarchy means very little to me. Let’s put together people who can help solve a problem, regardless of position.”

Can you imagine if that happened at your next event committee meeting? What would you change? What if you could get people at the table who were sincerely excited about different aspects of fundraising, things you are not good at, things that they could do better than you? This strengths based leadership approach is exactly what we taught at the Fundraising Career Conference 2016.

Gerstner rewarded people who helped their colleagues,and who gave credit to the team, not taking all the credit for themselves.

Have you ever had a boss who took credit for all of your work? I know I have! How did that make you feel, if so? For me, it felt pretty awful to feel like a cog who was just there to make someone else look good.

Gerstner was appalled by the failure to follow through on deals and decisions, and the company’s unlimited tolerance of it.

Have you ever wished people at your nonprofit would follow through more on deals and decisions? I know a very passionate employee who left a small nonprofit because people would not follow through on deals and decisions. Has this happened to you too? She built a program that was making significant earned income for this tiny nonprofit that served a community that was growing every day, and when she tried to train other people to run it, or take it over when she left, no one stepped up. Sadly, this was typical of the nonprofit in general.

To get into a growth mindset at your nonprofit, here are some ways to turn around a culture that seems hierarchical, fixed, and just plain unwilling to embrace new ideas.

1. Start praising peoples efforts in staff meetings, especially if they try something new.

2. Praise people who work together as a team to make something new.

3. Actively ask for feedback about your leadership, and about decisions. Even if you’re not a leader yet. If you’re new in your job, have coffee with as many people as you can, to learn “how we do things here” and ask people how they would like things to change. You too can be like Jack Welch and try to understand your nonprofit from all angles, no matter what job you have. And it will make you a better leader. Not to mention a better fundraiser.

4. Seek to understand people’s STRENGTHS, and allow people to come to the table, even from outside the nonprofit, no matter what their job title is, to help make an event or a program a success. You can learn more about the strengths based leadership approach at the Fundraising Career Conference.

5. Present managers as resources for learning, and encourage mentorship

6. Give feedback that promotes learning and future success. That means, don’t punish people for making mistakes. So often in nonprofits we are punished for making mistakes.

7. Join us in Fundraising Mastermind Elite. If you’d like to learn more about strengths and how to become a growth mindset leader, listen to Kishshana Palmer’s session on strengths based leadership in the Fundraising Mastermind Elite archive Fundraising Mastermind Elite program.